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17 Jan 1997 Helen Schinske
Speaking of Lewis Carroll, I have just read Konigsburg’s The View from Saturday, and think that the quiz bowl question about Humpty Dumpty is indeed ambiguous, and should have been changed. I also thought the explanation of “tip” as an acronym for “To Insure Promptness” was unlikely, but have not checked any slang dictionaries or the like. I was taught that “ensure” was the correct spelling unless you were talking about fire insurance or something, but perhaps that’s a twentieth-century distinction.
I liked the format of the book, but the characters didn’t seem memorable for much except snottiness. One of the values Konigsburg seems to place a lot of emphasis on is courtesy, but she doesn’t teach it very well by characters who are shocked at such things as a Florida retiree wearing a turquoise track suit (I thought many such people used turquoise as practically a neutral color — it goes well with gray hair, after all).
18 Jan 1997 Nancy Bujold
I just finished View from Saturday, and must beg to differ. I enjoyed the characterizations very much. The viewpoint of four kids who don’t generally fit in seemed accurate to me, as did their observations, which I thought were private thoughts, not shared with others. Having visited my parents in Florida several times, I laughed out loud at the description of the grandmother. She sounds lovely to me, but from an adolescent viewpoint, her style didn’t quite make it. It reminded me of my father walking into a department store in their Florida town and inquiring of the sales clerk if she had seen my mother. Dad said, “She’s 5′, white hair and glasses”. The sales clerk replied, “Help yourself!” and gestured to a dozen women who filled the bill.
20 JAN 97 Sanjay Sircar
Someone wrote: “I also thought the explanation of “tip” as an acronym for “To Insure Promptness” was unlikely”
That is the explanation we were tauight/heard when we were little, but it may be apocryphal.
20 Jan 1997 Sally Wilkins
On the general subject of the questions and answers in the book, it seems to me that our disagreements over their validity are not untypical of what happens in “real life.” I cannot count the number of questions I have heard or seen in school quizzes and “bees” where the “right” answer was either clearly wrong, or based in hearsay or “tradition,” or only one of several possible correct answers. And if challenged the developer or administrator of the questions, more often than not, insists on the correctness of the given response.
24 Jan 1997 Fairrosa
I like Konigsburg’s books, and I liked _View_.. but, is it fair to say that this is an example of an author whose voice surpasses the voices of her characters.. that the “intelligence”, the “sophistication”, and the “values” are strongly the author’s or, the voice behind all these characters? I find the characters interesting but not emotionally involving because it seems that they are “portrayed” and not acting on their own.
I do love the Tea though…
25 Jan 1997 Jane Buchanan
For what it’s worth, my seventh grader thought it was a wonderful book. Thought the characters were very real to her memory of sixth grade. Has declared Konigsburg her favorite writer of all time (again), and wishes there was something out there by her that she hasn’t already read.
17 Feb 1997 Helen Schinske
Okay, June, here’s a squawk: Konigsburg does NOT deserve another Newbery, particularly not for A View from Saturday, which had a few good moments (and an interesting construction) but just wasn’t a great book. I haven’t read most of the other contenders.
I suppose Konigsburg now has the record for farthest-apart Newberys as well as closest-together, or whatever the hell she has … Great. Quiz show fodder. Very appropriate. But I must say that I am beginning to get so annoyed with E.L.K. that I think I am no longer capable of giving a balanced opinion on her work, so I should shut up. As C.S. Lewis said, “I don’t like detective stories, and therefore if I wrote about them I should infallibly write rubbish.”
Oh, well. Wasn’t it Sophocles’s Antigone that didn’t win the dramatic competition in ancient Greece? I always wanted to go back to the library at Alexandria and find the play that did win that year …
17 Feb 97 Daniel Meyer
Well, I wasn’t going to post a message about the awards, but since someone asked…
I’ve just started reading _The View from Saturday_, and unless it gets very, very much better very, very quickly, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, let alone give it an award. The narration sounds unnatural and many of the situations are contrived.
But I’m trying to reserve judgment until I’ve gotten to the end. (Clearly, I haven’t succeeded so far.) At least _From the Mixed-Up Files of Miss Basil E. Frankweiler_ was good.
18 Feb 1997 Kathy AiauI was surprised about the awards. Music of Dolphins didn’t even make the honors list. It is interesting that none of the 14 branches in the system had a View From Saturday. We are hoping that Bodart(who we Outsource too.) has the book on order. I have started reading A view From Saturday, and kept thinking about Flour Babies. Flour Babies takes place in a school, and is a little more interesting than A View From Saturday. As for Golem, only two libraries have the book. I kept thinking of the limited use Golem would have for story time.(as oppose to Office Buckle.)
I was glad that Starry Messenger by Sis was honored. It is a beautiful and well written book. How does the committee decide which books to look at?
18 Feb 1997 Karen L. Simonetti
Okay, June and Kathy, thanks for starting this thread…I can’t keep quiet any longer either. (And for those who know me, please STOP LAUGHING!)
I agree that -A View From Saturday- was a disappointing choice. I was surprised, but did like the -Golem- pick.
But, why oh why was Fleishchman’s -The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life- overlooked?
And yes, it would be nice if someone on the committee or one past committees could explain the whole process of picking the winners? Come on, be brave: be a volunteer! use a code name and/or some friend’s computer to email! Or is there some secret oath of silence the committee must take before being allowed to choose the winners?
Okay, even for those who don’t know me…its safe to start laughing again! But, I would really like to know about these choices!
Thanking all these volunteers and sources of information in advance!
18 Feb 1997 Becky Smith
I think the reason the list has been so quiet is that few of us were at work yesterday (President’s Day holiday!)
I was quite pleased with the Newbery Award – I liked this book the first time I read it, and it appealed to me even more the second time. (Of course, I *was* a bright child, so these children may have been more interesting to me because of that… :-) ) The few children who’ve read it so far in our library (we just got copies a couple of months ago) have enjoyed it as well.
I’ve been expecting Wisniewski to win a major award for his art for years now, but I confess that I didn’t expect this title to be the one! It doesn’t seem to have a lot of child appeal, although with the X-Files episode on Golems Sunday night, everything we have on the subject got checked out first thing this morning! Timely, anyway –
19 Feb 1997 Jane Buchanan
I am a huge fan of Karen Hesse, so I was thrilled when our library got Music Of Dolphins. But, as interesting as the premise was, and as thought provoking, I couldn’t get past what I thought was a rather fundamental problem: How can a story about a girl who does not have language be told in first person, present tense? I recognize that the typography and vocabulary changed as her language evolved, which was interesting, but still did not deal with the basic problem. I kept telling myself to ignore it, and I did finish the book, and I did appreciate many aspects of it. But it did interfere with my enjoyment of the book, and my ability to suspend my disbelief and truely immerse myself in this child’s life. Now, Letters from Rifka–that’s another story!
As to View From Saturday, I can only say my 12 year old loved it, found it very true to sixth grade and was delighted to hear it had won the Newbery because she says usually books that get good reviews and win awards are boring!
19 Feb 1997 Janice Del Negro
Having been a member of both committees, I’ll give the process explanation a shot.
Both the Newbery and Caldecott medals are selected by a committee of 14 members and a chair for a total of 15. The chair and seven committee members are elected by the ALSC membership; the remaining seven slots are appointed by the current ALSC president. (All committee members are members of ALA/ALSC.) The committees for the current year consider books published the previous year. For example, the committees for the 1997 awards considered all eligible books published in 1996 that were submitted for consideration. The committee members then nominate books for discussion at ALA’s annual and midwinter meetings. (The winner is selected at midwinter.) ALL DISCUSSION IN THE MEETINGS IS CONFIDENTIAL. In other words, forget about any inside knowledge of how a specific title was chosen.
However, one thing I find many people are unaware of is that any member of ALSC can nominate a title for discussion by contacting the committee chairs. Also, the committees are working not only on a “this is my favorite book” level but on the group process- the votes are weighted mathematically to ensure a level of consensus among the group members, and that does not necessarily mean the “most popular choice”, either.
Very Important Note: It is imperative that committee members buy into the process as well into the perceived “glamour” of being on the committees, as what being a committee member means is a lot of hard work, wrestling with emotional responses vs. objective ones, and being a member of a team with a clear understanding of exactly why you are all together trying to do a very difficult thing in the first place.
19 Feb 1997 Julie Tomlianovich
Having been on the Caldecott Committee (Officer Buckle & Gloria) I will never again wonder, “how did those people arrive at this conclusion.” Janice Del Negro’s comments that you must “buy into the glamor” is very true. You have to believe what the group is doing is important and will be remembered by generations. When I was first told I was on the committee, all I could think of was “Make Way for Ducklings.” It was my favorite book as a child and the responsibility seemed almost overwhelming.
I will never again look at a picture book the same way. Even artwork submitted for summer reading program has caused me to notice and say things, that a year ago I would never have paid attention to. It was an incredible experience, with people who understood children and books.
So congratulations to the 1997 committees.
22 Feb 1997 Julie Linneman
Sometime ago, someone asked for responses to the Newbery winner (A VIEW FROM SATURDAY) and then people got onto a thread of first person narratives. I must preface my statement by saying that I really like first person in most cases. I agree with the child who says it makes it more real, if it is done correctly. Someone also asked if anyone had spoken with children about this, and since I will be doing a [book discussion] this summer with the book PRIVATE NOTEBOOK OF KATIE ROBERTS, AGE 11, I think I will bring this up to them. We’ll be talking about diaries, journals, personal writing, and I would like to see their opinions of how this style impacts the story for them. [NOTE: Under NO circumstances will I call this a “book discussion”–while programs of this type are quite popular with adults, we had 1 child sign up for our “book discussion” group last summer. I need to think of a snappy name for it, like “Pizza at the Van Gogh Cafe” or “Friends of Poppy”…, which are our other bk discussions for children who have finished third to fifth grade.]
However, I agree with those who have certain problems with this year’s Newbery winner. I normally suspend disbelief when I begin a story, and I am prepared to let the author entertain me, but this one strains the limits of credibility. I have never in my life heard of any 5th-going-into-6th grade child refer to herself as a “prepubescent child.” I was already a bit annoyed by the flip and capricious tone of the book which sounded too adult (it reminded me of the tone in THE QUARTZSITE TRIP, which is written for about high school level), but when I got to the part where Nadia Diamondstein found use for the word “prepubescent” in reference to herself on two different occasions in her first person narrative, the book lost all credibility. Also, the coincidences are just too coincidental. Pretty soon, any reader will be saying “Hunh-unh….That would never happen.”
9 Mar 1997 Constance Vidor
I’ve just read The View from Saturday and am hoping that more of you out there have had a chance to do so too. I’m very curious to know what people think of it.
I found it quite moving and involving–it gripped me emotionally in a way that fe w children’s books have done lately. Its effect was visceral–to a degree that I still haven’t been able to fully analyze. I admired the artfulness of its const ruction, the elegance of the interwoven relationships, and its moments of comedy.
At the same time, I was appalled by the brutality and cynicism that I think und erpin the novel’s philosophical stance. Certainly, it is an articulate and artis tic expression of some things that American society believes about itself in 1997.
I feel it’s helpful to see this book in the context of other Newbery – award winn ing books that focus on an ensemble of characters rather than on a single protago nist. Like _Rabbit Hill_ and _Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH_, _The View from Saturday_ is a story about a community–and because of certain images and ideas that are present in all three novels I feel it is reasonable to interpret these c ommunities as paradigms of American society—paradigms that the author proposes as having certain ideal qualities–a sort of “blessed group,” or “chosen people.”
I use the phrase biblical phrase “chosen people” advisedly. An important strand in the history of America’s sense of its own identity is based on the Puritan phi losophy that America was a “chosen people”–that Americans were special, marked b y God for a benevolent destiny that paralleled Christ’s mission into the wilderne ss–and much of Rabbit Hill is based on that philosophy, its ideals, imagery, and lexicon.
In Rabbit Hill, the “chosen people” include strongly differentiated individual s, who, despite humorous personal failings, make up a peaceful, mutually supporti ve, and above all welcoming group. Everyone is loved and everyone–except the do gs that belong to the Fat Man at the crossroads–is welcome. They are welcome be cause there “is enough for all.” It is an inclusive group, capable of infinite e xpansion–not through missionizing or colonization, but through sharing of food, affection, and peace.
In Mrs. Frisby, individuality is still valued, but the paradigmatic society-the ” chosen people”–is no longer capable of infinite expansion. It is finite. Indi viduality is still valued and maintained, but the circle is closed. The rats of NIMH are and always expect to be at odds with a menacing, inhospitable outside po wer. The shadow of the cold war casts its chill over this novel.
In The View from Saturday, the “chosen people” is a very small group indeed. (Th e emphasis on Ms. Orlinski’s choosing process is significant–it underscores an e lement that relates directly back to the Puritan sensibility underlying RH). The chosen group is small, exclusive, finite, and closed. They are chosen, we are told, ultimately, because they are “kind.” But are they? They aren’t quite as sa vagely bullying as the other students in school, certainly. But how kind is Etha n, stolidly and stonily refusing to speak to Julian even after he starts acceptin g the invitations to tea? How kind is Nadia? Can anyone find one–exactly one a ctually kind or affectionate word of hers in the book? Even toward her dog, a so rt of gloating pride takes the place of genuine affection. Nathan is perhaps an exception–he is benevolent, charming, thoughtful, and kind. Julian is noble, imaginative, and hospitable. But–kind?
We are tantalized at the beginning of the story with the possibility that four ve ry distinct individualities are going to emerge–but in fact, as the story progre sses, the four Souls seem to merge into a faceless corporateness. There is a rel igiosity in the ritualism of the tea ceremony–it echoes the spiritual aura of th e feast at the end of Rabbit Hill–but it has a curiously cold quality to it–per haps because of its implacable exclusivity and secrecy. Most disturbing of all i s the moment in the book when the other students begin saluting the Souls with ra ised arms, like Nazi salutes. The scenes of the students forming an “flanks of honor guards” around Ms. Orlinski, and of the students wearing hundreds of ident ical T-shirts decorated with nooses to the contests reinforce the sinister quasi- military atmosphere.
One might also contrast the goals of the chosen people in each of the three Newbe ry award winning “ensemble novels” I’m talking about here. The driving force beh ind the Rabbit Hill community is the desire for everyone to have enough food–not just to survive, but to feel welcomed, included, and well-cared for. The motiva ting force of the rats of NIMH is to become independent–to be able to support th eir own community without stealing. In both these novels there is a shared commu nal goal that is good. The shared communal goal of the Souls? To win, to crush their enemies in humiliating defeat–and in what? Not a contest of athletic skil l or of intellectual grace and discernment, but in a contest of trivial isolated facts.
I don’t think that Konigsburg is wholeheartedly advocating competition and confor mity, but rather, I think that certain noble impulses–to create strongly individ ualized characters, to portray friendship and loyalty, to project images of renew al and hope–were gripped by a late 20th century Zeitgeist and twisted into somet hing reflects all to accurately the state of our souls as the millennium approach es.
I’m truly very interested to know what others think about this disturbing, and mostly well-written book. Is it, like Alice in Wonderland a “great work of destruction” (as someone–the author of Secret Gardens, I think said)? Is the curious fading of individuality a result of flawed writing, or is it an integral element of the underlying philosophy? What accounts for its emotional effect on the reader? People–adults and children–seem to either love it or hate it.
10 Mar 1997 John Peters
This is John Peters, using GraceAnne’s e-mail because, despite being on vacation, I didn’t want to miss a single moment of discussion about the Newbery winners (being a member of the committee that picked them). The following post is fairly long. Fervent thanks to Constance Vidor for her chilling observations on The View From Saturday; they’ve certainly given me a new way to look at the book–changed my eyes, to use Patricia McKillip’s phrase. I still trust that most readers, especially young ones, won’t consider the author’s philosophical stance founded on “brutality and cynicism”, but on some nobler feelings–the deeply rooted pleasures of doing well and doing good, of finding peers who are on the same moral and intellectual wavelengths, of having one’s ideas and abilities treated with respect by people of other generations, to mention a few–as well as the promise (which not every reader will easily buy, but at least it’s made) that malice, force, and ignorance are no match for courage, respect and quick wits. Her comparison with the communities in Newbery winners Rabbit Hill and Mrs Frisby… (what a great idea for a book! Or is there one already and I’ve missed it?) leaks a bit, because the group in View… is “closed” by outside constraints (academy bowl rules), not physical differences, and I don’t recall any sense that they intended to stay four in number indefinitely. It’s worth noting, too, that Konigsburg actually downplays The Souls’ bonding ritual, their Saturday teas, in favor of placing the quartet (plus their teacher/sponsor), in different combinations, through a series of comic or suspenseful tests. Though easily bored when characters sit around a table and talk, I nonetheless wouldn’t have minded more of that here.
Constance draws a connection between the way society at different times interprets the enduring conviction that Americans are “chosen people” and the manifestation of that concept in the three Newbery books above. Fair enough–but she sees that manifestation in View… as a twisted, sinister, fin-de-siecle return to a Nazi-like glorification of faceless collectives that march in lockstep and aim to “crush their enemies in humiliating defeat.” Whew! Well, that’s a way to read it, but here’s another, and I think easier one: those scenes in which their schoolmates share The Souls’ triumph and express such noisy support are so theatrical that they came off to me as set pieces, in which behavior is stylized, and less to be noticed than the high emotion, the sense of release. It’s more reminiscent of the celebration after any Big Game (andit seems pretty clear that Konigsburg deliberately and ingeniously plays on sports fiction’s conventions throughout the book) than some variation of Morton Rhue’s The Wave.
Constance also has trouble seeing how The Souls are “kind”–perhaps, in part, because she seems to equate “kind” with “nice”. In this context it makes more sense to think of kindness in the sense of being “sensitive to the needs and feelings of others”: therefore, Nadia’s work with baby sea turtles is founded in kindness, and Ethan’s awareness that his treatment of Julian on the bus is wrong from the get-go is, too. That it sometimes takes these characters a while to act on their feelings is a realistic touch. I still don’t really understand how the children and their teacher come to “choose” each other–is this another case of ambiguity in children’s literature, or am I just not yet wise enough?
I do have a few bones to pick about View From Saturday–for example, the author’s sweeping condemnation of children (specifically 6th graders, methinks, though no copy of the book is handy to check) who once said “What Next?” and now say “So What?”, and, oh! those crappy, horrifically formulated Bowl questions!–but still love and admire it to pieces.
10 Mar 1997 linnea m hendrickson
The View from Saturday is beginning to remind me of the elephant as “seen” by the blind men. Both on the list and off, I’ve encountered responses to the book that seem to prove that any one book can indeed mean very different things to different readers. Or, perhaps it is only certain books that provoke interpretation to such an extent — some perhaps because of their intrinsic nature and others because they are pushed into the spotlight because they’ve been given a prestigious award (e.g. The View from Saturday, The Midwife’s Apprentice), and some because of their immense popularlity (Love You Forever, Goosebumps).
I wasn’t going to comment on View from Saturday because I’ve only read it once and found my reactions mixed, enjoying it as I’ve enjoyed whatever else of Konigsburg’s that I’ve read, but failing to see, I suppose, anything that made it stand out. But Constance’s post on the book has sent me back to it (feeling guilty that I still have it checked out of the library, too). I haven’t gotten more than 1/3 of the way through the second time around, but this is what I’ve looked for and what I’ve noticed so far:
I paid special attention to the structure of the narrative. Each chapter begins with one or more segments (separated by dots or round balls) centering on the academic bowl contest and on Mrs. Olinski, the teacher, and told in a third person voice, but from Mrs. Olinski’s perspective. Then these segments are followed by a first person account by one of the four Souls. This pattern continues only through the first four chapters which make up, however, 3/4 of the book. The remaining chapters 5-12 are shorter and all told from a third person point of view. I’m not sure what to make of this, but it is a rather unusual structure. I’m still debating Contance’s point about cynicism as I read, but the “kindness” is what I’ve been looking for, and I think I am finding it the second time around. Noah seems kind from the beginning, although he seems to have been sucked into the events of the Diamondstein-Draper wedding in spite of himself and then to find himself surprised that he actually enjoyed his involvement of the old folks that are no longer in the real world. The fact that he was willing to give up his presents, and that he volunteered to be best man shows he cares about the old people.
Nadia is more difficult, but what I see the second time around very clearly is a child feeling hurt, left out and abandonned not only by her parents’ divorce but also by the remarriage of her grandfather. She finally does come to acceptance and sees the connection between the fate of the turtles and her own life and her father’s. And, I agree with John Peters, that yes, Ethan does seem aware all along that his treatment of Julian is not right. All four of these children, with the possible exception of Noah (?), have trouble fitting in, but they somehow find each other. There may be something almost mystical in this. It is as though each of these children followed distinct voices that somehow led each to where he or she needed to be, and to each other.
The knowledge they have that enables them to win the bowl is for all of them based on something they are deeply involved in. They did not learn these things to win a contest, but knew these things because they were important parts of their lives.
Complaints about the book have centered on the lack of realism in the first person voices. However, upon rereading the voices seem more distinct. These are not typical 12-year-old’s voices, but then these are not typical 12-year-olds either. I have no trouble believing that a child like Nadia Diamondstein would write of herself as prepubescent. The fact that she repeats the word at least twice makes me think this is one of those words she learned and delights in using if only to make others gape. She and Ethan also talk about being “unacompanied minors” on airplanes.
I do think the book is saying something about community — it is a strand in each of the stories — how strongly this can be linked with Rabbit Hill and Mrs. Frisby, I don’t know. It is also about passing down history and traditions. About family. Ties right in with the discussion on the list about the canon.
One niggling point that I noticed only because it had come up on the list recently (how educational this all is!), on page 3 Mrs. Olinski “watched with baited (and visible) breath…” Of course it should be bated, although I’m still trying to imagine ways in which one might be able to bait one’s breath!)
One last point for now, suggested to me by Alice Naylor (Alice, I hope it is O.K. to mention this), was a comparison of View from Saturday with The Westing Game. Also, in terms of the book as game — I think John Peters is right about the athletic contest metaphors that infuse the bowl game. I must admit I didn’t detect any Heil Hitler Nazi overtones, but I haven’t got that far in my rereading yet.
10 Mar 1997 Fairrosa
Ok. I am going to re-read this book…
But, if I did not see all the “deep” thoughts and implications in my first read (not that I did not enjoy reading the stories) and can only find all these “wow so profound hidden messages” upon second reading and after much discussion — how many children will be able to pick up these “implications”?
Linnea mentioned that Alice suggested to compare this book with _The Westing Game_. This is an interesting idea. I remember being moved to tears in the middle of the night when finishing the last page of _The Westing Game_ and nope, I think at least, _View…_ has not that type of power. At least not to me.
How many people have loved _The Westing Game_ without so much musings and pondering — just because it’s Such a good read and the emotional build-up is so natural and he protrayal of human nature is so ingenious?
I guess my question is: if a book needs so much analysis and explanation to prove its “greatness”.. then, is it truly great?
11 Mar 1997 Constance Vidor
Roxanne (aka Fairrosa) asks, “if a book needs so much analysis and explanation to prove it’s great, then is it really so great?” Because of the purpose of this list, which is to seriously analyze children’s literature and look at it from critical perspectives, I am surprised that a close analysis would provoke this response.
I can certainly understand that my particular analysis might provoke disagreement or cynicism, but the spectacle of listmembers mocking the endeavour of literary analysis itself puzzles and saddens me.
16 Mar 1997 Fairrosa
Oh, no.. there’s no mocking intended at all…
I was asking an honest question — I know that analysis and criticism IS the purpose of this list. My sincere intention was to invite more Analysis and criticism not on One book, but on the Collective phenomenon of books. My inclination is that we are analyzing “children’s” books.. no matter how many times we say and how much we want to believe it true that writers should not write to please the intended audience and that they should write for themselves, when we dissect, discuss, analyze, children’s literature, the word “children” really cannot and should not be omitted. If the book cannot speak powerfully to its intended readers, then I will at least be skeptical about whether it being a successful or “good” book.
11 Mar 1997 Michael Joseph
Reading _A View from Saturday_ reminded me of going to the movies with my thre or four year old daughter> I would siNK INTO MY CHAIR, a sob in my throat, choking out “Look, there’s nothing original here!” While the other folks around me might have glanced over at the strange man with the scratchy voice (apparently by himself, since Hannah knew better than to respond, or perhaps didn’t trouble herself to catch what I was saying), I sniffled and sobbed out “This is awful!” Really. I sobbed as the MaCauley Caulkin character effected a reconcilation with his dad, or even cast his disappointed eyes at some icon of neglect; I sobbed as the three little Ninja boys dashed and darted around the slower, angry adults, I sobbed as the captive Dolphin leapt to safety, as the animated boy and animated princess flew through the animated nighttime sky and groaned aloud “Oh, NO!!” each time appalled at the spectacle–the evidence that either art had gone out of the world, or the worl has changed so little while I have gotten so old.
Did anyone else feel an urge to re-read Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetic For Bullies?
11 Mar 1997 Karen L. Simonetti
How I came to “understand” -A View from Saturday-
First, read the book twice (to really figure out what bothers you). Second, think of the TV sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun” and the adult alien who is “forced” to live in junior high school boy’s body, that’s the “gimmick”: All four children are “speaking/telling” in a very adult fashion! And that’s why the unusual narrative “works” for both kids and adults, because this is a TV type characterization/voice we are used to seeing and accepting as 6th graders. Granted, the children’s voices do change a little according to who is doing the telling, but the book did not grip me emotionally, because I felt it was the same, adult person (ELK?) telling the same story only changed a bit to reflect each character’s point of view as to where they were in the plot.
Other miscellaneous thoughts: I agree with John Peters’ comment about “the author’s sweeping condemnation of children.” Having just spend the weekend with sixty 7th graders at a Bar Mitzvah party of some distant relative, let’s give the kids – in real life & in literature- a little more credit: they each are unique, wonderful, crazy and sometimes wild enough to drive you up a wall. But, I did not find enough character development in any of the children (protagonists or otherwise).
I think Linnea Hendrickson hit the true “magic” about the book: “All four of these children have trouble fitting in, but somehow they find each other. There may be something almost mystical in this.” Look at the name of the group: The Souls! For the record, I see this kind of “bonding” with this age group all the time. And I think one reason the book didn’t drive me totally nuts, was because I “brought” that adult experience to the reading with me. However, thinking about some of Peter Hunt’s theories (specifically in his article “Childist Criticism, The Subculture of the Child, the Book and the Critic.” Signal, January 1984, pp.42-59). I am not sure if the child reader would bring that into the reading. Then again, maybe it need not be explained?
And why don’t we know more about Mrs. Olinski? Her “voice” was just about to tell you something, then it got cut off! I’m referring not to the interactions before the Souls were chosen, as to her interactions/reactions afterwards. By choosing The Souls as the team, Mrs. Olinski got the Souls, their extended families and the other 6th graders to be a community. I don’t think it needs to be spelled out how it happened. you read the story & see it happening; but what made Mrs. Olinski so perceptive as to pick these kids? What did she know/feel/see that she’s not telling? I know, Mrs. Olinski “claims” not to know either; but there is definitely something within her that made this choice. And what about her own awkwardness in fitting back into the community after her accident?
One last tiny little thing, Linnea: I think what accounts for the readers’ emotional reaction to this book (love it or hate it) is that it is “the curious fading of individuality as a result of flawed writing.”
Well, now that I’ve probably offended 50% of the entire ChildLit world, not to mention writers, reviewers, and publishers, I’ll be quiet…really, I will!
PS: Thanks Constance Vidor for bringing this “thread” up again!
12 Mar 1997 Sharyn November
Okay, a few things about this book….
1. I’ve been told that this was originally conceived as a short story collection, and subsequently revised into a novel. Perhaps the Bowl was thought up as a framing device and expanded.
2. Elaine Konigsburg’s characters (specifically: her children) talk and think like no other children in the known universe. What can I tell you? They are Konigsburg Children. They are more articulate &c than other children you will find in middle-grade novels. Some readers really like this; some don’t. It’s just the way it is.
3. She does all of her own jacket art.
Sharyn November, who promises not to post so often in future.
12 Mar 1997 GraceAnne A. DeCandido
What I am about to write falls into the category of witnessing, rather than analysis. I loved this book to pieces, from the first time that I read it, and the deepest reason that I loved it is that these precocious, intellectual 12-year olds spoke so resonantly to the ancient 12-year old buried in my current 49-year old self. I was a smart kid, an unpopular kid, an outspoken kid who knew words and read things and did stuff none of the other kids did, and had I found a group like The Souls in middle school my whole life would have been different. I am so pleased that this book exists for all of those too-smart-for-their-own good children who will find (I hope) Mrs Basil and Scarlet and Miniver and go on to this.
A last personal note, and then I will cease and desist: my son’s favorite book as a young person was From the mixed-up files– he’s working in publishing now, and I can’t wait to give him this one.
12 Mar 1997 Linnea Hendrickson
I’ve finished View from Saturday the second time around, and although I’ve found few insights in addition to those I commented on when I was less than half way through, I must say that GraceAnne’s comment strikes a deep chord in me, too. But, what is awful is that I still hate to admit that I was one of those kids, too. And it’s even worse to admit that I have a couple of kids that are also like Konigsburg’s Souls. We’ve talked earlier — long time ago — on this list about books where the characters read other books, and how some of us loved those books as kids, and set out to read the books the fictional characters read. But, in the real world as both kids and adults there are times when it is painful and embarrassing to know “too much.”
The Souls in View reminded me of the year in high school that I took physics and somehow was in a class with students not in my grade and found a few other assorted oddballs. We invented our own upside down or backwards science, coming up with things like “Light is the absence of dark,” and shared books with each other that no one else would be caught dead reading — that was the year I was reading everything I could find by Albert Camus, and did a book report on War and Peace, shocking the teacher almost senseless. I also found friends that were deeply interested in music and we would meet to share music — but this was entirely separate from the acceptable social life, and was never talked about openly. (I want to emphasize, too, that all these other kids and I were generally not the very top students — not the ones who became valedictorians — although we did well enough — even in academics we marched to different drummers.)
I think there’s something in our American search for equality, that doesn’t want anyone to stand out too much and that this may be part of what we find uncomfortable in The View from Saturday.
One of the things I did notice in my continued reading was how many quiz-type, cultural references turn up throughout the book. The water lilies puzzle, for example, is never identified as a painting by Monet, the DNA spiral staircase is never explained, nor is “Less is more.” I suppose all this could be seen as a kind of retro “cultural literacy,” as a bit of a backlash, but is there no place for this kind of knowledge any more in our “Mr. Walter Disney” world (that Izzy Diamondstein likes to refer to)?
Still sorting this out and interested in others’ responses — especially those from kids.
12 Mar 1997 Kathy Isaacs
It is true that the brutality and cynicism of American society is often exaggerated but one of the things that particularly impressed me about The View from Saturday was its accuracy at describing the sixth grade world. I began working with sixth graders in the 1970s and do so, still. Konigsburg is right: sixth graders HAVE changed. So have schools, and the world.